As promised in the last story, this is a somewhat lighter counterpoint to the last one that was admittedly cruel.

Still rated T for descriptive violence.

I know it's a bit long for a one-shot, but I guess this is about the shortest I can get, so I'll not make the effort to divide it into chapters.

Enjoy.


Bloody Sunrise

"I think you should talk to her," Benji commented, leaning against the inside of the door.

"Shouldn't you be on vacation?" Brandt asked without looking up.

"I mean, after what happened..." Benji continued

"Oh?" Brandt paused to take a sip of coffee. "What happened?" he asked with mock ignorance.

"You know," the Brit shrugged. "Last mission."

Brandt sighed into his empty coffee cup. "We were locked up in a freezer, waiting to turn into popsicles," he remarked dryly. "Nothing happened."

"Yeah, sure," Luther's sonorous voice sounded through the open door.

Brandt ignored him. "Benji, would you please let me work now?" He indicated the door.

"He's right, though," Ethan commented. He couldn't quite ban the teasing grin from his face.

Suppressing a sigh, Brandt shot him an annoyed glare. "Benji, out," he commanded and demonstratively dropped two folders onto his desk. "You two, sit."

Benji left the office with an almost mischievous grin, while the other two agents obeyed and drew up two chairs to the desk.

"Gentlemen," Brandt opened. "You'll be going to Sydney."

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

With dismay, Brandt stared into his still empty coffee cup after Ethan and Luther had left his office. Of course, Hunt had talked him into something that screwed with his whole planning for the next week, although he had seen it coming and vowed to not give in.

But that was only one more tiny issue. His mood was at a new record low after having been grounded for four weeks. He would be for at least two more, thanks to the cracked ribs he had brought home from the last mission. And even after that Hunley probably wouldn't let him go back into the field that easily.

What was worse, he actually wanted to talk to Elaine. He had wanted to ever since they had returned from Scotland, but she had been so hard to find he had started to suspect she was actively avoiding him. Only if she did, she was avoiding everyone else just as much, as far as he could tell.

It was not like he hadn't tried to find her. Brandt had even resorted to studying her file and other tactics that could be construed as stalking. He wasn't particularly proud of that, but it hadn't really helped him either. All he knew was that Elaine was also grounded for medical reasons. In the meantime, she was working in the R&D labs and keeping very eccentric work hours.

With a sigh, Brandt stood up to get another coffee. Technically he was finished for the day, but since he didn't have anything better to do, he could as well make himself useful.

The hallway outside his office was almost empty. It was a late Friday afternoon and while the IMF operated on a 24/7 basis, everyone still generally tried to respect the weekends. He took the pot out of the coffee machine, found that what was left inside was less than warm and poured it into the sink when someone called him from behind.

Brandt turned. "Skye?" he asked with slight surprise. "Shouldn't you not be here?"

"I'm almost gone," Skye commented. "But before I go on vacation I thought you'd like to know that as of today Elaine is cleared for physical exercise by the medics."

Brandt stopped halfway in preparing the coffee. "And you know that how?"

"A reliable source," Skye smiled and headed back down the corridor. "See you in three weeks."

She was gone before Brandt could reply, but the analyst hardly noticed. He abandoned the coffee machine and headed for the gym.

Brandt had already suspected he wasn't the only one spying on Bray, although Skye had only just given him the confirmation. He was slightly embarrassed that she had obviously done a better job at it than him, despite his top-level clearance as chief analyst. But then again she had had more time and probably teamed up with Benji.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

The IMF headquarters' gym area was spread over four levels of the building and apart from the standard array of treadmills, bikes, and other exercise machines, contained a basketball court, an olympic standards swimming and a separate diving pool, as well as several dojos and a fifteen-foot climbing wall. It was there that he found Elaine, hanging from a three-meter high overhang.

Brandt stood to the side and watched as she moved hand over hand along the brightly colored grips. Almost at the top, she reached for a grip that seemed right at her fingertips, but when she tried to hold on, her fingers slipped and she fell. Although Brandt knew the floor was lined with mats, it still looked spectacular.

Elaine remained sitting on the floor, propped up on her elbows, staring at the wall as if this way she could persuade it to spill its secrets. She only noticed Brandt approaching when he was already almost there.

"Shouldn't you be taking it easy?" Brandt asked, then realized it was probably a stupid question. But now it was too late.

Elaine hesitated, then took the hand he offered and pulled herself up. "I always forget how much muscle you lose in a few weeks," she panted, her face half grin, half grimace.

Brandt winced internally. The doctors hadn't cleared him for full exercise yet and he knew sore muscles would haunt him for weeks once they did. But then he pushed that thought away. "Well, I thought maybe we could go out when you're done here?"

"Go out?" she asked.

"As in two colleagues having dinner together," Brandt explained. "And maybe a drink."

He saw her eyes darting towards the door. Was that too much?

"Just you and me?"

"Well, I would have asked the others to come along. But Benji and Skye are on vacation and Ethan insisted on taking Luther and Jane to Sidney." Brandt shrugged.

"So basically I'm your last resort," Elaine stated sharply.

How did she come up with that conclusion? Brandt sighed mentally. "No, but I had to look for you for four weeks to find you," he replied firmly.

Elaine looked indecisive.

Great, Brandt thought, now I practically told her I've been stalking her. Then he decided he could as well go all in. "Also I know we both got the weekend off," he said. "So I guess you're all out of excuses."

Elaine stared back at him for a moment and Brandt was already expecting a 'no', but then she nodded.

"Alright," she said. "But I get to choose where we go. And first I shower."

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

The Secret Spice was a relatively small restaurant with a bar along the wall opposite the window front. Nestled in between two other restaurants in a street consisting mostly of food establishments, it was not exactly striking and although he had been in the street several times, Brandt couldn't recall ever noticing it, much less eating there.

On the inside, it was dimly lit, although not uncomfortably so, and the room was furnished with simple sleek elegance. Elaine had obviously been here before and headed straight for the bar.

The bartender was a moderately tall man with a dark South-Asian complexion, a neat short-cropped black hairstyle, and a not too obviously muscular stature. When he spotted Elaine he came over immediately.

"Long time no see," he greeted her with a grin. "What's it gonna be? The usual?"

"Yes," Elaine answered, nodding a greeting. "And a Bloody Sunrise."

The bartender acknowledged her order with a smile, then looked at Brandt.

The analyst hadn't had time to locate a menu, or even read through the offers on the boards behind the bar, so he shrugged. "Recommendations?"

He almost thought Elaine exchanged a conspiratorial smile with the bartender. "He'll have the same," she decided then. "But with an Icebreaker."

The bartender nodded. "I'll be right back," he said, then disappeared into the kitchen.

"So, how did you find this place?" Brandt asked casually, taking another look around. A few tables were occupied, but they were the only patrons at the bar. On two wall-mounted screens, a sports commentary was running on mute.

"Decent food," Elaine replied. There might have been something mischievous in her smile. "And Kamal shows most of the hockey games."

"I didn't know you like hockey," Brandt said, then realized how stupid it sounded. After all, what did he know? He decided to try and save the conversation with small-talk. "So you got any bets on the Stanley Cup?"

"Not ice hockey," Elaine corrected apologetically. "Field hockey."

Before Brandt could ask about that, the bartender returned with two glasses, closely followed by two plates. Elaine's drink had a golden yellow color on top, blending into a deep red towards the bottom. Brandt's seemed to consist mostly of crushed ice and mint leaves with clear liquid in between. The food turned out to be an assortment of grilled meat with a side of fries and the bartender had also put up bottles of different sauces.

The warm spicy smell made Brandt realize how hungry he was since it had been a day with lots of work and as usual he had sustained himself mostly on coffee. Happily, he grabbed a pair of chicken wings. They were fried crispy and accompanied by the pleasant tingle of hot sauce. Just as he had finished off the second one, that tingle turned into a full grown burning sensation and his mouth started to feel like he had swallowed liquid fire.

Brandt felt the blood rushing into his head and sweat pouring from his face. More reflexively than consciously he reached for his drink. It was mixed strongly with vermouth, but the combination of bitter tonic, lime, and cool mint helped to sooth the burning in his mouth a little.

"Good?" the bartender asked with a grin.

"Yeah," Brandt breathed and put down his glass.

"Need some bread?" the bartender asked, now slightly concerned. "Or milk?"

Brandt smiled. "No, thanks," he replied, then watched incredulously as Elaine reached for a bottle of Tabasco and proceeded to pour a generous amount over her food and then a few drops into her drink. "Kamal, are you going easy on me?" she asked.

"I would never," the bartender replied, holding up his hands in defense. "I just didn't want to kill your date."

"Well, thanks," Brandt muttered and commenced eating more carefully. In small bites, the spice was more tolerable and actually quite good.

"It's called Hellfire Barbecue," Elaine commented gleefully munching away on her spare ribs while watching his more careful approach with an amused grin.

Brandt couldn't recall ever having seen her smile before, not like this anyway. It formed fine creases around her eyes and curled up her lips just enough to show the slightly protruding tips of her canines. He decided that this was definitely worth the torture of his taste buds. And at least he now knew that Elaine had a sense of humor after all.

"How," he asked, still somewhat hoarsely, "can you eat that?"

"I was stuck in Sudan for two and a half years," Elaine explained. "If you eat spicy every day you get used to it after a few months, and in hot climate, it's actually nice."

"Sudan?" Brandt asked. He cautiously glanced behind the bar, but Kamal had already disappeared into his kitchen again. "I thought you were in Egypt?"

"That's only where Cliff and his guys ended up," Elaine explained sourly. "Originally I was set up in Port Sudan to gather information on human trafficking and other operations going through the port. It's a central point where ships come through from India, as well as cargo on the land route up from South-East Africa. When I lost contact with IMF, I simply stayed there and continued. Until last September when someone discovered I was still there and they sent Cliff and his team to get me out."

She took a sip from her drink, then continued: "With my information and new intel from other sources we had an opening to possibly bring down several big traffickers. To get them we had to get into safer territory first, where they couldn't just buy their way out, so the plan was that I let myself get captured and they'd follow my trail up into Europe, get me out, get some evidence and effect an arrest."

Elaine grimaced. "Only they didn't," she sighed. "Cliff even sent one of his agents to tell me that they'd found a network and would stay in Cairo while I was shipped out the next day to spend the next two weeks in a shipping container. I tried to escape three times and failed every time. It was luck, really, that the secretary decided to follow up."

Brandt nodded compassionately. The secretary had to personally sign off on each disavowal. And while in some cases it was a matter of form, in others it could be a complicated political decision. Not disavowing an agent who had been compromised could make the agency vulnerable to outside influences. And while disavowed agents were left to fend for themselves, which could greatly reduce their chances of survival, it was a risk they all knew going in. Also, it was not unheard of for agents to return from being disavowed, in some cases even multiple times, so generally the secretary would disavow more often than not. Still, Brandt was rather happy that in this case he hadn't.

"Sorry," Elaine mumbled and drained her glass. The silence stretched almost into the awkward, while she waved at the bartender for another drink, but Brandt was determined to let her have the next question.

"So, Brandt," she asked, once she had rebuilt her smile. "Don't you have a first name?"

Brandt's smile turned into an ironically suffering expression. "William," he finally admitted.

"William," Elaine repeated, tasting the sound. Somehow she managed to give each letter equal attention while simultaneously swallowing half of them. It sounded soft and round. "Why doesn't anyone call you that?"

Brandt shrugged. "Only my grandma ever did," he said. "It's a bit archaic."

"And you don't have any nicknames?"

"Well, my mum used to call me Bill," he started, slipping into his storyteller's voice. "Then in middle school, there was this kid, one year above me. Everyone called him Big Billy, I don't even remember what his real name was. He was a typical spoiled rich kid, and his favorite pastime was picking on everyone who was smaller than him, stealing lunch money, that kind of stuff. He wasn't particularly strong, but he didn't need to be since he was twice as massive as any of his targets. The nickname thing kind of just died right there."

The last words trailed off as his focus was diverted somewhere else. Elaine's gaze followed his to the door that had opened just then and four men entered. They were dressed entirely in black, wearing full-face ski-masks over their heads and carrying handguns.

"Alright, everyone on the floor," the first one called. There were muffled cries coming from one corner, so he added: "And be quiet!"

Brandt reflexively reached for his gun, realizing too late that he wasn't carrying one. Slowly he slipped from the barstool, while next to him a second robber passed a bag to the bartender and ordered him to fill it with money. He hoped that no one had seen the movement, but the first man promptly walked over.

"You!" he shouted, waving his gun in Brandt's direction. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing," the agent started, calmly showing his hands.

"Search him," the man ordered another, who patted Brandt down roughly. "What are you? A cop?"

"I'm not a cop," Brandt answered slowly, taking care to speak clearly.

"What then?" the leader asked impatiently. "Answer!"

Brandt considered his options for a moment, then decided that it probably didn't matter. "CIA," he answered, just to see their reactions.

The leader clenched his teeth. "Do you have identification?"

"It's in my pocket," Brandt replied, indicating his jacket with one hand. Slowly he moved his hand inside. "I'll get it out now."

"Well, get on with it," the man growled. He swung the gun away from Brandt, pointing it towards Elaine. "Or your girlfriend takes a hit."

Brandt looked at the other agent while he fished for his wallet. She looked annoyed rather than scared. He could see something metal gleaming in her right sleeve and there was an almost imperceptibly tiny nod.

"Alright," he said and flipped his wallet open, so they could see the ID.

One of the robbers stepped forward and took it from him. "Looks real, boss," he said after inspecting it. "What do we do now? We can't kill a fed."

"If we don't he's going to identify us by voice or something," the fourth man who was standing a little to the side, securing the rest of the room, put in.

"No one gets killed as long as everyone does what I say," the leader decided and reached for Brandt's ID. In doing so, he had to turn his back on Brandt, also momentarily shielding the agent from his compatriot.

Swiftly Brandt moved forward, grabbed the leader's gun hand and sent the man face first into the floor. Since there was not much space, his head crashed into the iron footrest that ran along the bottom of the bar.

Meanwhile, Elaine lashed out with her right hand, sinking her knife into the other man's leg.

The robber reflexively dropped Brandt's wallet but brought his gun around to point at Elaine. Yet it gave Bray enough time to come to her feet and stepping onto his already injured leg, she reached for the man's gun with one hand, for his collar with the other, swinging him around in an elegant arc to join his boss on the floor.

In the meantime, Kamal had swung himself across the bar and was brawling with the robber who had been watching him there, so Brandt headed for number four. Not wanting to risk accidentally shooting one of the other patrons, he crossed the space in a few long steps, just as the man turned around.

Swinging the gun he had just acquired at the robber with his right hand, Brandt caught his gun with his left and twisted it out of the man's hand. His adversary managed to duck under the blow and answered with a right hook that grazed the agents face, but Brandt brought back the hand the man had dodged earlier in a powerful backhand blow and the man sank to the floor.

Brandt made sure he wouldn't get up, then took a look around. The bartender was holding his adversary against the bar, leaning one knee into the man's back. Next to him, Elaine was retrieving her knife, the other two robbers lying unconscious at her feet.

"Will... Uh, Brandt?" she said, wiping the blade on a paper napkin before she slipped it into a leather sheath and stored it in her trousers' back pocket. "You're bleeding."

Carefully Brandt felt on his forehead where she had indicated and felt the sharp sting of a fresh wound as he reached right into it. His last opponent was wearing a ring that had cut into the skin right above his right eyebrow.

"Stop that," Elaine sighed, coming over. Standing right next to him, she examined the cut, carefully dabbing the blood away with a napkin. "That's going to need stitches."

She was close enough Brandt could feel her breath on his cheek as she said it. Close enough he could smell the amalgam of scents evaporating from her skin. Close enough...

His thoughts were interrupted by the wailing of sirens and the shouts of police officers outside the door.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

Shortly after the police, ambulances arrived. The paramedics took care of Brandt's cut right there, but wanted to take him along anyway in case he had a concussion.

Brandt knew he didn't, still, he came along, if only to get away from the police.

Since he was already patched up, he wasn't a priority when they reached the ER, so he ended up sitting in a corner with Elaine. For a while they sat in silence, then she suddenly asked: "What's the 'A' for?"

"What 'A'?" Brandt asked, taken aback.

"On your ID," Elaine elaborated. "It says 'William A. Brandt'."

Brandt looked back at her with fake ignorance for a moment but quickly caved in. "Alexander."

"William Alexander Brandt," she said. "Sounds nice."

Brandt smiled silently in response, then looked down at the bag in his hand. Someone had given him an ice bag for his head when they had arrived, but by now the ice had all melted and since the victims of a drunken bar fight had come in earlier, the few nurses that had passed in the hallway hadn't had much time to spare for them.

"What do you say, we don't stay here all night?" he asked. She responded with a questioning look, so he explained: "For one thing, I was hoping to maybe get around that whole 24 hour observation period since I'm pretty sure I don't have a concussion, and while we're already on it I thought maybe we could escape the paperwork that comes with dealing with the police."

Elaine followed his gaze to the entrance where a group of uniformed officers had entered. "Alright," she said. "But we're obviously not going to get out that way."

"Well, according to the fire escape map over there, there should be another exit on this level, into the parking garage," he said, indicating the map on the wall with his head.

"Sounds good," Elaine commented after briefly studying the map. Then they wordlessly got up and walked off, down the corridor.

In an empty office, a doctor's lab coat was hanging over a chair next to the half-open door and Elaine quickly picked it up as they passed. She swiftly slipped into it while they walked on.

They continued down the hallway until they reached the door to the parking garage, which led into a smaller corridor and ultimately to a second door. This door was locked, with an out of order sign attached with scotch tape and a note underneath, asking them to please access the garage from another level.

"Elevator?" Elaine suggested. Brandt nodded his agreement and they headed back towards the main building. After they were through the first door again, Brandt suddenly stopped. He looked around as if orienting himself, but Elaine followed his first gaze and also spotted the two officers who were talking to a nurse. They had passed the agents while they had been inside the smaller corridor and now were not only blocking the way to the elevators but also coming towards them. And as they were only two of the four officers that had come in earlier, chances were their colleagues were back at the entrance.

Quickly Elaine grabbed Brandt by the arm and pulled him into the room opposite them before the officers could see them. She closed the door behind them and they found themselves in a dark storeroom, pale light falling in through a single window onto metal racks stacked with medical supplies.

"So, now we wait?" Brandt asked, looking around.

Instead of an answer, Elaine grabbed him around the waist with one arm, dragging him into the corner behind the door. With the other hand she threw the lab coat around his shoulders, and before Brandt knew what was going on, she had pulled down his head by his tie and suddenly was all over his face.

Brandt hadn't been prepared for this, and it was all he could do to fight down his defensive reflexes, as the sensation overwhelmed him. Her breath was warm on his face and still carried the spicy smell of their food and a hint of alcohol. Her lips were soft against his stubbly chin, finding their way up. He could taste the salt of her sweat, remainders of hot sauce and something fruity. The sharp tips of her canines brushed first against his lips, then his tongue. Her grip around his back was astonishingly firm, but he responded in kind.

With his back to the door, Brandt hadn't seen the handle being pressed down from the outside. He was only peripherally aware of the door opening, until someone switched on the light, the sudden brightness hurting his eyes.

"Sorry," a female voice said, more amused then apologetic. The light was hastily switched off again and the door closed.

Elaine let go of him as suddenly as she had grabbed him earlier, as soon as the door had fallen shut. Brandt wanted to hold on, but his hands had already awkwardly found their way into his suit pockets, so they just stood in front of each other, silently staring at the floor as they listened to the sounds outside. Quick footsteps passed, someone was hobbling by on crutches, then two pairs of heavy boots. After that there was silence.

"I think they're gone now," Brandt said. Although he had cleared his throat, his voice felt rough and somehow unnatural.

"Yeah," Elaine replied, sounding husky. She had picked up the lab coat and put it on again, and now carefully opened the door. When she saw no sign of the policemen, she waved Brandt to follow her and they quickly walked to the elevator.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

The sky was already turning gray, competing with the light of the street lamps, as they came back into familiar streets. They were walking in silence, but it was not awkward anymore, rather companionable. There was a feeling of shared adventure and mischief, although cheating the police out of a witness testimony to save themselves paperwork hardly compared to their day job, and maybe something more.

"I can drive you home if you want to," Brandt suggested as they came closer to IMF headquarters, breaking the silence.

Elaine chuckled dryly. "No thanks," she said with a hint of sarcasm. "My place is a little far out and I want to see a bed before the sun is up."

"You could come to my place then?" he asked carefully. "I can take the sofa."

"I don't know where you're staying, but with the morning rush hour coming up, I don't think you'll get there anytime soon," Elaine replied, and there was this not quite serious chuckle again. "I think I'll just camp in my office. Feel free to join me."

"You've got an office?" Brandt asked with a hint of disbelief and joined her walking up to the main building instead of heading for the car park. Elaine shrugged and went directly for the stairs.

"Back when I was working full time in the lower levels, someone apparently thought it appropriate. And I guess they got the room to spare since no one reclaimed it while I was away," she explained and lead them past laboratories and workshops until they ended up in a corridor with stained glass doors. Elaine stopped in front of one and pulled her keys out of her pocket. The door didn't have any inscription, only a small sign next to it that read.

4.2.16

Office

The inside was hardly more spectacular. It was a rectangular room about twice as long as it was broad. The walls were colored in the sort of eggshell that couldn't quite decide if it was white or beige, but otherwise blank. A draw-out sofa with faded cushions was taking up most of the left side of the room. Facing it on the other side were a metal closet that looked a bit like an over-sized locker, an empty desk with a very beaten up chair, a mini fridge and a basin behind the door. Opposite the entrance, a second door stood half open, allowing a glimpse into a very small looking bathroom.

"Charming," Brandt commented.

"I still spend most of my work time in the lab, so I use it as a place to crash if I don't want to go home," Elaine explained and dropped a roughly folded stack of blankets on the floor. "You take the couch, I'll take the floor."

"What floor?" Brandt asked, who had just drawn out the sofa. It was still less space on there than would have been on a regular single bed, but the floor space had subsequently been reduced to a thin stripe next to the closet.

"Right," Elaine muttered and appeared from behind the closet door, now dressed in a slightly too large t-shirt and sweatpants. Critically she eyed what was left of the floor. Brandt only shrugged.

"I guess there's enough space here for two people," he said stripping down to his shorts and folded his clothes neatly onto the chair. Elaine seemed to ponder this for a moment, then shrugged too, and claimed a blanket and her share of the bed.

Brandt had to admit that space was a little rare as he joined her, but there was no space to fall off either, so he just rolled onto his side and made himself thin. Elaine was curled up in a ball, her back to him. Not knowing where to park his arm, he carefully placed it over her shoulder.

In reaction she turned slightly, snuggling closer into his arm. The change was only minimal, but enough so he could feel the rise and fall of her breathing against his chest. It was deep and regular, Elaine was already fast asleep.

"Good night then, I guess," he murmured as exhaustion finally fell over him.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

Brandt woke up slowly the next morning, although morning was maybe not exactly the right term. Even while he was still half asleep, he got increasingly aware that something was... different. For a moment he wondered why his alarm clock hadn't rung yet until he remembered it was a Saturday. Still, that didn't explain why he felt so unbelievably comfortable.

Considering that he was very comfortable and that he didn't have to get up yet, he decided the best course of action was probably to go back to sleep. Satisfied with that conclusion, he wanted to turn over, but something was in the way. Surprised he finally opened his eyes and realized he was not in his flat. And he was not alone.

Elaine was curled up next to him, her head resting on his arm. After a moment he noticed, with a slightly guilty feeling, that she couldn't really have gone anywhere else, because he had stretched himself like a starfish across the too small bed. He wondered whether he should just take his arm back, but he didn't know how to do that without waking her up. And even though they were still separated by the blankets, just lying there with her somehow felt really good.

While he still pondered what he was supposed to do now, Elaine stirred, snuggling herself closer onto his shoulder in half sleep. Brandt had to smile. "Good morning," he called softly.

Her head tilted slightly in his directions, her eyes blinking sleepily until she suddenly stared at him with a slightly startled expression. That's it then, Brandt thought. He had messed up. Now she would get up, screaming, and run from the room. Or worse, and more probable, just kick him out, and his clothes after him. He didn't have any doubt in his mind that she was perfectly capable of that, especially considering that she had the same agent training as he.

But she didn't. After the initial confusion, she settled back on his arm and smiled. The same smile he had seen the night before, the edges of her mouth drawing back ever so slightly towards her ears, exposing the tips of small, pointy canines, tiny wrinkles forming around her eyes that, he noticed, were of a watery gray around the edges, but with deep forest green sprinkles near the pupils. "Good morning," she replied.

"Breakfast?" he suggested, hoping his voice didn't sound too breathless.

"I have toast in the cupboard," Elaine said thoughtfully, then slightly apologetically added: "But only tea, and instant coffee."

"Sounds alright," Brandt replied, while somewhere in the back of his brain he wondered when he had had his last fix of caffeine. But somehow that didn't seem so important right now.

"But then we'd have to get up," Elaine replied, and carefully moved up on his shoulder. Tentatively, almost hesitantly, as if asking permission, she stretched an arm across his chest. Brandt didn't dare to move. He felt his heartbeat quicken and wondered if she could hear it.

"Right," he murmured and looked at her in amazement. He had seen her fighting, cold and calculating, yet with something deeper behind, that seemed to drive her. He had thought it was a sort of rage or hatred, but every time he thought about it, it just didn't seem to fit. It was a puzzle, just like the woman herself was to everyone who met her. Even Benji had told him he couldn't figure her out and he came as close to knowing Elaine Bray as seemed to be possible.

And yet she was right there, lying on his shoulder. Another part of the puzzle, and the most wondrous so far, that she should open up like this to him, of all people.

Brandt didn't know how long he had been looking at her, or more likely staring, he thought dryly. All the while she had looked back, with interest, almost a sort of intense fascination he would formerly have thought she would reserve only for a few very chosen lab specimens. In her own way that was weirdly charming.

While she carefully stretched across his chest, gently asking with every move, his arm wandered around her back until his hand rested lightly above her hip. Part of his brain noticed, just how perfectly they seemed to fit together. Imperceptibly they moved closer until his forehead leaned on hers. He seemed to bathe in her scent that was salty, yet creamy, like salty caramel underneath, a mixture of orange juice and Tabasco still lingering about, mingled with an unidentifiable spicy note and a hint of hydrochloride from the lab that seemed to cling to her hair.

When their lips touched it was as if the world exploded. His heartbeat spiked as last nights adrenaline rush resurged. Brandt didn't know what was happening or how it had happened, but he decided that the fact alone that it was happening, was enough. The kiss was neither very long, nor very intense, and he didn't dare to go further, in fear he would break whatever fragile miracle had just formed between them.

As they drew away again, it didn't feel like a mistake. More like a basis, a testing ground for something that had yet to be developed. And like a promise of more.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

Epilogue

The next Monday Detective Bethany Davis sent an email to the CIA public relations office in D.C. asking for details about Special Agent William A. Brandt as part of an ongoing investigation into the robbery of a restaurant on the weekend. The only reply she got was that any such information was classified and if she wanted anything specific she would have to go through official channels. After three weeks of trying these official channels while already working other cases, Davis finally gave up.

Incidentally one day later, Ethan Hunt's phone rang on the other side of the globe. Sleepily he reached for it, with the intent to ignore it, but the number on the display made him change his mind. "Hunt?" he answered sleepily, sitting up.

"Good morning, Ethan," Brandt's voice replied, slightly amused. Then he dryly continued: "I'm sorry, but I have to pull Luther from your mission."

"What? Why?" Ethan asked processing the information. It occurred to him that in D.C. it had to be around midnight right now and that although the analyst didn't know it had been a long night for him, he was probably doing him a favor by staying in late to call him.

"We can get into the details of mission planning if you want to, but I can assure you it's very boring," Brandt replied. "The short version is, I need Luther back here for something else. But Skye and Benji just got back from vacation and they'll be on the next flight down."

"Alright," Ethan replied and swung himself out of bed. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something felt weird. "Brandt, are you alright?" he asked.

"Yes," the analyst replied, surprised. "Why?"

"You sound different," Hunt admitted.

"I'm fine," Brandt answered and Ethan could swear he could hear a slight chuckle.

Hunt was considering to ask him something that would confirm his identity. Brandt sounded relaxed, almost happy. Which wasn't very much like his usual, and mostly well funded, complaints about office work, especially considering he was probably doing over hours right now. But then he dismissed the thought. Maybe he was just having a good day, it could happen to everyone.

"Alright," he said. He tucked the phone under his chin while slipping into his shirt. "Anything else?"

"Yeah, I got a message for you. From Agent Bray," Brandt said, and Ethan could swear he was grinning. "1:24 on the green."

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

"Luther, you'll have to pack," Ethan announced entering the living-room / kitchen of the safe-house. "Brandt just called, you've been reassigned."

The technician paused in making coffee long enough to look at Hunt. "And what are you so happy about?" he asked, spotting the poorly concealed grin on the other man's face.

Ethan couldn't quite tell himself what was more astonishing: That Elaine, who was considerably smaller than him, was the first person in months to beat his record on the wall. Or the picture that was forming in his head that would explain both Brandt's unusually good mood and the fact that he had relayed the message. "Because," he answered, now with a full grown grin, "you owe me five bucks."


If you've got this far, thanks for sticking with me.

I've gone through an exams phase in the last days, so it's going to be a while until I've got the next thing uploaded, but it's already well in the making.

In the meantime, if you want to find out what's going on in Sydney I suggest you read ThiessenClock's Lock & Load. It's listed as a crossover, but it's well worth the effort spending the extra time searching.